Larson visits town for posthumous POW recognition

U.S. Rep. John Larson, center, presented eight posthumous medals to the family of Joseph Clements on Friday, May 26. Clements was a prisoner of war during World War II, and the recognition campaign was spearheaded by his late brother and the Southington veteran’s committee. From left, committee members Rachel Wache, Bob Klezun, and E. Richard Fortunato; Larson; Mary Clements, and committee member John DeMello Sr. (Photo by John Goralski)

By JEN CARDINES

STAFF WRITER

Southington’s veterans committee, joined by U.S. Rep. John Larson (D-CT 1st District), presented the family of the late Joseph Clements with his World War II medals and honors last week. The ceremony was the kick-off to Memorial Day weekend.

Clements, who passed away in 1991, was recognized posthumously with the POW Medal; Bronze Star Medal; Good Conduct Medal; American Campaign Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 1 bronze service star; World War II Victory Medal; Combat Infantry Badge 1st Award; and Honorable Service Lapel Button, World War II.

Joseph enlisted in the Army on March 12, 1943 at the age of 19. Two years later, he was captured by Nazi Germans and sent to Stalag 12A to 9B along with 4,439 other American soldiers. Stalag is an abbreviation of the German word “Stammlager,” which was a term used for Prisoner of War camps. Stalag 12A to 9B was one of the highest populated prisoner camps of its kind, where Clements remained for at least three months.

“Few people really understand what it means to be in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany and to have served our country,” Larson said.

Family members said that, when Joseph returned home, he didn’t even know about most veteran benefits, and he never pursued any medals for his heroic service or for surviving as a prisoner of war. It wasn’t until Joseph’s brother, John, having served in the U.S. Navy, began the process of recognizing his brother’s service before his own death in January.

Southington’s veteran’s committee continued the process after John’s passing, and Mary—Joseph’s niece and John’s daughter—was on hand to accept the Prisoner of War Medal, among others, for the family. She said they will remain with her.

“My father was very passionate about getting this for his brother,” Clements said about the military honors.

Veterans committee member John DeMello took the lead on the project when he found out the Clements family was looking for help in obtaining the medals. He worked with Clements to find information about her uncle and contacted Larson to present the medals.

“I want to thank Congressman Larson because we’ve worked together in the past, and I’m so grateful,” DeMello said. In the past, Larson has pinned medals on other war veterans during his visits to town. Because both Clements brothers are deceased, the ceremony bestowed over half a dozen medals to Clements’ niece for safe keeping.

Following in Joseph and John’s footsteps, many other members of the Clements clan enlisted in the armed forces over the years.

“My brother is retiring in November after 20 years,” she said. “His kids are in the army—they just started. One of them is in Korea, and one is still here.”

Mary recalled the many war stories that her father, uncle, and brother would share during family gatherings, some of which she heard repeatedly over time. She said that this recognition was very important to her father, and the process helped to memorialize her uncle’s sacrifice and service.

“Dad’s beaming,” Mary said about the presentation.

The veterans committee works with many Southington families to ensure they receive the military honors their loved ones deserve, and DeMello said “it’s never too late” to grant the accolades. Whether or not the veteran is still alive, an important purpose of the committee is to make sure that Southington soldiers receive the recognition and medals that they deserve.

“There’s nothing that we do in our office that is so thoroughly satisfying as making sure those who have served their country and distinguished themselves get the medals that they have earned,” Larson said. “It’s an extraordinary contribution that they’ve made to their country.”

 To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Jen Cardines, email her at JCardines@SouthingtonObserver.com.

Photos by JOHN GORALSKI

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